Harbor seal pups have arrived on the NH and MA coast! Adam posted about pupping season on June 24 with tips of what to do and what not to do when you see a seal on the beach (remember seals are semi-aquatic and it is normal for them to rest on shore). This past week, the rescue department has had several cases, unfortunately, where people did not follow these tips. We had people trying to feed seals hot dogs, seals being covered with blankets, and going for rides in a cooler. Hopefully we can all learn from the following stories.
Story #1: When you see a seal on the beach, call the New England Aquarium hotline at 617-973-5247 instead of trying to help the seal on your own. Last week we received a call from an individual who had a seal in his truck and was bringing it to the aquarium. Supposedly this seal had been on a beach in Salisbury for two days, but it was the first the Rescue Department heard of it! Rescue staff met with the person, who had it in a cooler (vented at least) and wrapped in a blanket in the back of a truck. Seals should never ever be covered because they can easily overheat. "Shivering" is more than likely a stress response from people being too close, so the best thing is to stay at least 150 feet away. This particular seal was hot to the touch. It also had other health problems including a swollen rear flipper. Rescue staff and volunteers brought the seal to the University of New England (UNE) Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center for medical treatment.
Story #2: This is another reminder that seals should never be wrapped in blankets, which can cause them to overheat and lead to death. On the 4th of July, we received information that a person picked up a seal and dropped it off at a whale watch company in NH for care. Luckily the whale watch staff called us immediately for instructions and we were able to meet them to collect the seal. The seal had originally been wrapped in a blanket, sitting on someone's lap on the way to the whale watch. First of all, seals are wild animals that carry diseases so this person is lucky he/she did not get bit. Also, the seal's body temperature was over 105 degrees Fahrenheit, which is much too hot for a seal. We brought this animal to UNE as well, and unfortunately it passed away not too long after arrival. Although this animal was likely in poor health on the beach as well, the improper transport did not help the situation.
Story #3: A seal was resting on a beach in NH and we had a field volunteer take a look at it. It seemed to be in pretty good condition except it appeared stressed...shivering slightly and labored breathing. The volunteer noted that a child was sitting about one foot from the seal, although lifeguards had put up signs to keep a 150 foot distance. There were also reports that people tried to feed the seal hot dogs. We know those are not in a seal's normal diet! When you see a seal on the beach, keep your distance for your safety and the seal's safety. Also, never try to feed a seal. Seals eat live food, and food handled or prepared by humans can be dangerous for them. We monitored as a 24 hour watch, receiving updates on it once to twice a day, and the seal ended up going back in the water on it's own.
Also remember that seals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which means people can be fined or arrested for harassing a seal, or altering its normal behavior in any way. So keep your distance and call our stranding hotline right away if you see a sick or injured seal on the beach!